Variations on a Theme
Variations on a Theme
Astoundingly, there’s still no new research out there. I went to the web site of the Stem Cell Research Foundation and they didn’t have any stories that were new either. There was an anti-embryonic stem cell rally last night in Jefferson City, Missouri; the Kansas City Star reports that there were an estimated 850 participants. In Australia, The Australian reports that researchers fear that the Howard government delay in bringing the Lockhart report and proposals to a full debate in Parliament means that the government is conceding to conservatives. Last week in Maryland the chair of the newly formed stem cell commission was designated. It’s a hot issue in the Wisconsin elections. There’s clearly a large national conversation, perhaps even a global one, beginning to take place, and the Bush veto may actually have had the effect of increasing activism among ESC supporters, but I am afraid it is going to consist of both sides digging in their heels and name-calling. One of the problems is that the anti’s see it as a moral issue, while the pro’s see it as a science issue, which means that they are not arguing about the same thing, and therefore are unlikely to resolve it. I think it is important for stem cell researchers to recognize that there are good people out there who genuinely believe this is taking a human life; on the other hand, those people need to understand that their conception (no pun intended) of when human life begins is not shared by many other people. I respect the position of any anti-stem cell, anti-choice, anti-war, person who gives time and energy to actively helping people live in peace and out of misery, and I think there are many such people out there. But when someone starts calling me evil, it’s pretty hard to listen to what they have to say.
I also object on a constitutional basis to having scientific decisions made on the basis of particular religious beliefs. If embryonic stem cell research were considered immoral by all the major religions, unequivocally, then I think that would have to be honored. But it’s not: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for example, have different beliefs about when life begins—and Christianity itself has no clear voice across all its denominations—so taking the position that ESC is destroying a human life is a Christian position. This is fine in a country with a state religion. But that’s not what we are supposed to have. And yes, we have In God We Trust on our money (which has never made sense to me—why is a spiritual God being mixed up with money? You can’t worship both God and Caesar. Maybe it’s a reminder not to be greedy and to share.), and yes, Christianity is the dominant religion, and yes, the founders were Christians. (Many of them also held slaves.) But they intentionally kept their Christian worship out of our constitution. We cannot look to what the founders were to describe this nation—we need to look to what the constitution says. It’s not as though they left out a state religion by accident and we need to put one in.
One of the other things that I see many people who are against ESC research saying about the Bush veto is that he only vetoed funding and did not veto research itself; the research is not illegal or criminal (except maybe in Missouri…). This is true, and I think it’s a reminder that pro-ESC people need to be very precise in how they use their language. However, the effect of denying funding is to drive the research underground (sometimes literally) instead of to promote it. In his very nice, eminently readable, short book on the Constitution and the Supreme Court, Active Liberty, Stephen Breyer points out that while the federal government is constitutionally not allowed to direct state actions, the feds can get what they want by setting conditions on their highway dollars to the state, or school dollars, or whatever. Money means power. Saying “You can do whatever stem research you want but we won’t give you money” is essentially the same as saying “You can set whatever speed limit you want, but we won’t give funds for fixing the roads if you don’t set it as we wish.” Imagine if you had to rely on donations to fix the highways!